The Presbyterian Church in Korea, reunited on February 17 after a four-month schism, subsequently voted to withdraw from the World Council of Churches as part of the price of its reunion.
The vote represented a voluntary compromise on the part of the ecumenical party in the church who control the assembly and who still favor membership in the WCC but who accepted the withdrawal as a necessary step to bring the anti-ecumenical minority party back into the fellowship of Korea’s largest Protestant denomination.
Official commissioners reuniting at the February 17 assembly numbered 230 at the opening roll call. By the end of the three-day meeting the number had risen to 251, or 87 per cent of the attendance at the ill-fated Taejon General Assembly in September where ecumenical and anti-ecumenical commissioners split into two rival assemblies. Of the original 286 Taejon commissioners, 198 were present at the reunion.
A rough estimate of the relative strength of the reconciled parties in the reunited assembly is: ecumenical 150, non-ecumenical 50, and neutral 50.
Considerable debate preceded the vote to withdraw from the World Council of Churches. Since the more radical opponents of the ecumenical movement had rejected reunion and retained control of their own divided minority (anti-ecumenical) assembly, it was suggested that it might not be necessary for the united assembly to withdraw. But the commissioners finally agreed to honor the terms of the plan of reunion which brought them together and which included the promise of WCC withdrawal. There was only one dissenting vote.
They added, however, a statement declaring that the World Council of Churches was neither pro-communist, nor organized to promote theological liberalism or a super-church, and that the sole cause of withdrawal was for the sake of the peace and unity of the Presbyterian Church in Korea.
Korean Presbyterians are still suffering from two earlier schisms which resulted in the formation of the 140,000-member Koryu Presbyterian Church in 1951 and the 200,000-member Presbyterian Church in the ROK in 1954. The parent body, the Presbyterian Church in Korea, had 536,000 members at the time of the September schism.
Commissioners, by voting to label their reuniting assembly as the 44th, ignored the two rival assemblies held subsequent to the breakup at Taejon. The Taejon meeting had convened as the 44th General Assembly.
The united assembly elected as its moderator 74-year-old Rev. Chang Kyu Yi, moderator of the former majority (ecumenical) assembly, and chose as vice moderator the Rev. So Joo Oh, white-bearded moderator of one of the largest presbyteries in the former minority assembly. Recognition was given neutrals by the election of a Seoul pastor, the Rev. Sei Chin Kim, as stated clerk.
Presiding at the assembly until the elections were held was the Rev. Kyung Chik Han, pastor of Seoul’s 6,000-member Yong Nak Presbyterian Church. The assembly was held in the historic Seimoonan Presbyterian Church, oldest Protestant congregation in Seoul.
Three days of pre-assembly special meetings led by Dr. L. Nelson Bell, Executive Editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY and a member of the Board of World Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S., brought commissioners into the reuniting assembly in a quiet, earnest mood far removed from the turbulent spirit that had disrupted the Taejon assembly. All three cooperating missions, United Presbyterian, Southern Presbyterian, and Australian Presbyterian, strongly supported a reconciliation call.
Only the rejection by a small group of anti-ecumenical extremists prevented a complete healing of the schism. The extremists, encouraged by the leadership of the International Council of Christian Churches to promote the breach, may form a new, organized faction within Korean Presbyterianism.
Legal difficulties still face the reunited assembly. The dissident party is pressing a civil suit which asks that a rival assembly held in November be declared as representative of the Presbyterian Church in Korea. Also involved in the issues of the suit is the Presbyterian seminary near Seoul, which suffered disruption of classes as a result of the schism.
The assembly confirmed the status of the 45-member seminary board of directors who had been registered with the government’s Ministry of Education prior to the split. A seven-member committee was appointed to select a president for the seminary, largest in Asia.
Reports from the seminary described the situation as “most encouraging.” Some 230 students were said to have returned to classes, and more were on their way. About 70 are attending a rival seminary operated by the anti-ecumenical extremists.
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